FutureGen is looking to invest a whole lot of money in clean coal power plants…but only because they couldn’t pull off their own zero-emissions coal plant project.
FutureGen is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and 13 energy and mining companies from around the world. Together, their intention was to come up with a commercial-scale near zero-emissions energy plant that would also capture and store CO2 and produce hydrogen; however, the project cost has spiraled out of control. Nevertheless, the organization still plans to hunker down and move ahead with the carbon capture and storage (CCS) aspect of the project, with the DOE announcing an opportunity for coal plants using CCS technology to get a sizeable chunk of funding from FutureGen.
While it is encouraging to see CCS technology getting a leg up in the US, especially considering some of the advancements we’ve seen here and elsewhere in the world, it is still frustrating that the project to clean up the coal industry has to be drastically downsized. Rather than one big project that could illustrate the success of this new technology, the DOE is turning towards multiple 300 MW projects across the country to lead the way, a scattered endeavor that may simply be all talk for the foreseeable future. With this CCS investment opportunity announcement (or, perhaps more accurately, We Can’t Pull It Off, So Maybe You Can plea) the DOE said it wants to invest in other “clean coal power plants” that already have CCS technology…a bit of a rare beast here in the US. This may be good incentive for coal power plants to retrofit or build with new technology, but there are other ways to clean up power plants without the elusive carbon capture technology, and other ways to use CO2 than just “storing” it.
This kind of lackluster approach to CCS technology investment tells me that obtaining realistic programs at coal plants anytime soon, even in the next 20 years, seems optimistic.
University of Washington in Seattle has created a team of robotic fish that are programmed to swim together as a school. The three robo-fish were tested in an indoor freshwater tank, and did relatively well sticking together as a unit. The problems that have kept this kind of innovation from succeeding in the past is that radio waves don’t travel well underwater, and that’s what the fish would use to stay in communication with one another. Previous versions of the fish had to be linked together with a cable, or would have to surface to receive signals from a central command. The new versions use sonar-like pings from acoustic modems, or radio when they’re in close proximity of one another.
The fish use servo-actuated two-link tails and flapping pectoral fins, which allow them to swim like any other fish, going in any direction, making sharp turns, or even swimming backwards. Powered by NiMH rechargeable batteries, each fish controls its own movements using onboard microprocessors for collecting data and processing control commands, and they’re equipped with a pressure sensor to gauge depth, and a 3D compass.
The point? Robo-fish that can school can be used to track things such as oil spills and wildlife, gathering much more information and covering much more distance than single units. This means we can learn more at a faster rate…if we can get them to work in the oceans and not just a safe swimming pool. There is also the issue of how sonar pings that the fish use to communicate with one another might interfere with the sonar used by the wildlife they’re sent to track. And also the issue of…well, there are a whole lot of issues yet to be addressed. Let’s just first see if the things can work accurately, I suppose.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was paper. Because it is. But it isn’t. A team at MIT has developed nanopaper, which has all the qualities of regular old-fashioned paper, including size, weight, printability, cut-ability, even the way it’s made. But it’s far more than just paper.
We’ve seen nanotechnology posing as paper before, but this is something exceptionally cool because of its function. Made of nanowires, this paper can sit on water for months at a time, soaking up to 20 times its weight in oil, while never soaking up a drop of water. It was created to help remove oil and other toxins after oil spills. To keep it from absorbing water, the nanopaper is coated with siloxane vapor so it repels water while attracting oil. Laid down on the tough-to-clean areas of spills, the sheets quickly absorb oil and store it in the itty bitty nooks and crannies made by the clumped-together nanowires (think: butter in an English Muffin), making the toughest parts of cleaning up spills a whole heck of a lot easier.
The best part is the sheets are reuseable. After absorbing all the oil it can gather, the sheets are boiled, removing the oil, and then reused.
Shhh….do you hear that? Seals and seagulls are cheering.
This is the second in our series of projects from ISEF that we will be covering. Many more to come. Thanks to Intel for flying me out and putting me up so I could cover the conference.
Water may look clean, but it can contain many clear or diluted chemicals, unobservable by the naked eye, that can seriously harm human health. Water testing is not prohibitively expensive, but it only tests for certain things. So Leah Schecter of Florida decided to see if one can actually SEE and test the quality of water, using bioluminescent dinoflagellates (bacteria).
The bioluminescence of an organism is a very good indicator of overall health and so she tested some groups to see how long their bioluminescence would last. It lasted about 30 seconds for the control group and 34 seconds for the experimental group. She then added the most popularly used pesticide to the experimental group. The chemical contained Atrazine, which causes harm to human and animal life, and the results were quite acute.
After 4 days, the control group had lost 6 seconds of luminescence while the experimental group, that exposed to the chemical, lost 24 seconds, to 10 seconds, only 29% of its initial duration. It is clear that the Atrazine had a significant effect on the health of even these small bacteria. While this specific experiment only applies to salt water, Leah says that the experiments can be duplicated for fresh water applications with strains of other bacterium or lichens found in fresh water.
We're used to calculating carbon efficiency, or how much CO2 is produced along with a unit of energy. But there's a lot more to the environmental equation than how much carbon gets produced. We've also got to consider things like heavy metals, particulate production, and habitat impacted.
Increasingly, another environmental concern is starting to pop up when considering power generation. Already, many parts of the world are experiencing serious fresh water shortages, and that isn't helped because many methods of generating power also consume massive amounts of water.
A recent study was published yesterday by researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute quantifying a bunch of different factors in water use in the energy industry. Some of the figures are staggering. Using America's current power mix, it takes up to 6,000 gallons of fresh water to keep a 60 watt light bulb lit for 12 hours a day for a year. Most of this energy is consumed as a cooling fluid at power plants.
The most water-efficient power generating sources were wind, geothermal and hydroelectric plants. While nuclear power plants, with their massive cooling towers, use the most water per watt produced. They were quick to point out that while bio-fuels were more carbon-efficient than fossil fuel alternatives like gasoline, they are far less water-efficient, already adding significantly to the world's water shortages.